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How philanthropy helps support our health and life sciences ambitions

rmhzdal8 May 2019

What we do here at UCL matters enormously.

We provide society’s best chance of tackling some of the most pressing issues of our times. We change students’ lives and improve their life chances.  As a university, we aim to be a force for public good and have a positive impact on people, lives and communities.

All of this is worth paying for.

I fully support calls for greater public investment and secure funding streams for the transformative work that we do. However, the environment in which we strive to fulfill our multiple ambitions has become increasingly complex as successive governments reduce levels of core funding while introducing more rigorous performance measurement and accountability. Increased competition, shifts in demand, changes in student numbers and behaviours, as well as the potentially transformational impact of technology and innovation have also affected our operating environment. These challenges have been further exacerbated by the abiding uncertainty regarding the impact of Brexit.

The support of universities by individuals and organisations is not new. Philanthropy has an illustrious tradition in the UK and education has been a significant beneficiary since the Middle Ages. UCL was founded by philanthropy and it remains an important part of our funding mix, and one that makes a unique contribution to what we can achieve.

Professor Alan Thompson in New York

Professor Alan Thompson gives keynote address at the annual New York reception

In September 2016, UCL publicly launched It’s All Academic – a major philanthropy and engagement campaign to raise £600m and generate 250,000 volunteering hours for UCL. It is focused on four key themes, reflecting areas in which UCL is genuinely world-leading and is making a unique impact – health, London, students and disruptive thinking. The key projects include research into dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, eye health, and economics and public policy, capital projects including a new neuroscience building, UCL East, a new building for vision and the new Student Centre, and student support such as scholarships.

I’m delighted that health is one of the four major themes of the fundraising Campaign and continues to be the strongest in regards to funds raised. As of the end of January 2019, the theme has raised £369M (cumulative since August 2011).

Mark Emberton in KL

Professor Mark Emberton addresses a sold out alumni event in Kuala Lumpur

In addition to the scale of the campaign, I have been impressed by its strategic sophistication and professionalism. The Office of the Vice Provost (Health) and the SLMS Senior Executive Group works closely with the Office of the Vice-Provost Advancement (OVPA) to ensure an integrated approach to fundraising planning and activity. The Deans and I are personally involved in the actual fund-raising initiatives. Importantly, we are not using donations to fill in budget holes but to transform SLMS in order to deliver our ambitions for real world impact.

Some key successes  

ION-DRI

A hub for the UK Dementia Research Institute and a new home for the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology.

Significant gifts totalling over £38m have been raised for a new neuroscience facility on Gray’s Inn Road to host the central hub of UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) and the Queen Square Institute of Neurology. These include: £5M from a UK Foundation, a £3M gift from a Hong Kong based Alumna and £2M from the Wolfson Foundation. Our aim is to create a world-class facility to find effective treatments for dementia and neurological diseases such as: Multiple Sclerosis, Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Motor Neurone Disease, Stroke and Epilepsy.

Notable gifts for Cancer include £1.87M from a grateful patient donor to support prostate cancer research, £660k from the John Black Charitable Trust to support the MINIMA minimal cancer magnetic therapy Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) project led by Professor Mark Lythgoe in the Centre for Advanced Biomedical Engineering (CABI), and a recently awarded gift of £763k from the JP Moulton Foundation to support a clinical trial in prostate cancer led by Professor Mark Emberton.

SLMS colleagues are also working closely with OVPA on a number of emerging fundraising priorities:

  • The Institute of Global Health Leadership aims to improve the efficiency, safety and quality of emerging health care systems.
  • A potential fundraising partnership between UCL and the Zoological Society of London could drive forward the ‘one health’ approach linking human, wildlife and domestic animal health.
  • OVPA have recently commissioned a fundraising feasibility study for Oriel, to test the philanthropic appeal of our ophthalmology research. Our plan is to build a brand new centre for world-class eye care, leading-edge research and professional training to address the growing burden of eye disease in an increasingly ageing population. The study will help inform our fundraising strategy and support of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology more widely.

We have also historically benefited from other philanthropic support:

  • The Pears Foundation donated £5million towards a new building at the Royal Free which will house the UCL Institute of Immunity and Transplantation (IIT);

The Pears Building will combine NHS patient care with the latest developments in research to provide better treatments for diseases such as cancer, diabetes, HIV and tuberculosis, as well as for traditional and tissue-developed transplants.

  • The cost of the Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children was met by a combination of fundraising led by Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity, £10m of funding from the Research England UK Research Partnership Investment Fund(UKRPIF) and a gift of £60m from Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak; and

The Zayed Centre for Research is a world-leading centre of excellence that will enable scientists and clinicians to more accurately diagnose, treat and cure young people with rare diseases.

  • The Paul O’Gorman building which houses the UCL Cancer Institute was established through the help of Children with Cancer UK.

Philanthropy is not core funding but it helps us to add excellence to the core, and amplifies and expands what we do. Importantly, it acts as a catalyst to leverage further funding. For example, the combined philanthropic match of £102m for the IIT, Zayed Centre and Queen Square secured £51m from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund. It increases the profile and influence of a particular project or area of work, brings together people and institutions in new ways, nurtures novel early-stage research and takes it through proof of concept to the point at which funding councils, the NHS, business and industry and other partners have the confidence to invest.

Philanthropic giving in the UK has a healthy trajectory. For 2017-18, giving to UK universities was up 11 percent (£979m to £1.08bn. This reflects both a growing awareness that universities are fundraising organisations and the increasing professionalism of university fundraising.

At the end of 2018, the UCL campaign had raised over £485m and had generated 160,000 volunteering hours. UCL is one of the UK’s highest achieving fundraising universities, usually ranked third in the UK for the level of fundraising income secured, behind Oxford and Cambridge.

Later this month UCL will unveil its new Donor Wall on the Wilkins terrace, which will for the first time recognise donations of over £1m to UCL.  Look out for this innovative piece or art designed by a Slade Student – a fitting celebration of philanthropy at UCL.

It is clear that philanthropic giving represents an absolutely vital income stream for SLMS, the university and the health sector as a whole. I look forward to seeing us build on this success.

Finding new ways to improve human health

rmhzdal30 January 2019

Professor David Lomas

As a university we endeavour to be a force for public good and have a positive impact on people, lives and communities.

The growing burden of disease in an increasingly ageing population is putting intense pressure on health and care services. We must strive to use health life sciences to change the way we think about health and disease and how best to manage them. Through ‘translation’ we aim to transform scientific discoveries arising from laboratory, clinical or population studies into new clinical tools and applications that improve human health.

Increases in interdisciplinary research, NHS and industry collaboration, and the adoption of innovative treatments and technologies will all be key components of successfully applying biology and technology to health improvement and advancing the development of new approaches to disease.

Interdisciplinary Research

UCL’s strength in life and medical sciences is driven via the School of Life and Medical Sciences (SLMS). However, the scale and scope of our work in health extends to many other non-biomedical disciplines: spatial sciences, engineering, laws, mathematics, pedagogy, and physical sciences, as well as arts, humanities and social and historical sciences. These combine to address structural, environmental, and cultural determinants of health, and deliver health and healthcare innovation.

NHS and industry collaboration

We work closely with our NHS partners (University College Hospital, Royal Free Hospital, Whittington Hospital, Eastman Dental Hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital, Moorfields Eye Hospital, the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital and Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital) to redefine what can be achieved through academic and clinical partnership.

Oriel | Proposed view from St Pancras Way (c) AECOM / Penoyre & Prasad / White Arkitekter

These partnerships have led to the development of exciting joint initiatives, success with joint research and capital bids, and leveraging of philanthropic funding (e.g. Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children, UCL Institute of Immunity and Transplantation, MRC UK Dementia Research Institute, and Oriel).

Partnership working, most explicitly articulated through our three UCL NIHR Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs), helps us to translate advances in biomedical research into real benefits for patients. The relationships with the hospitals also facilitates investigators actively involving patients and the public in their research. This public engagement in research can lead to treatments that better meet the needs of users and the public, and research outcomes that are more likely to be put into practice.

A key mission of the BRCs has been to develop a culture of enterprise and facilitate translation of discovery science at UCL into patient care. The partnership is critical to realising the value of discovery science, a value that grows exponentially following successful early phase clinical translation. The BRCs have invested in the Translational Research Office (TRO) which has been fundamental in bringing together the necessary expertise in design, and research management and governance of early phase trials, as well as technology transfer expertise in various disciplines. The biomedical portfolio supported by the TRO spans a total of 72 projects with a cumulative value at the end of the academic year 17/18 of >£114m, growing from £90m in 2016/17.

The group are particularly successful with helping PIs secure funding from the MRC Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme, Wellcome innovation schemes, NIHR i4i and LifeArc as well as providing a link through UCLB to the UCL Technology Fund and the Apollo Fund. For example, the UCL Technology Fund has recently invested £1m in a School of Pharmacy project to treat pancreatic cancer.

In December last year, Eisai renewed for a further 5 years our strategic alliance in neurodegeneration drug discovery as well as continuing to support the Leonard Wolfson studentship program. This is a great example of how working in partnership can accelerate translation, shortening the development timelines by many months, with the alliance recently moving their first drug candidate into the clinic.

Other Pharma relationships include Ono Pharmaceuticals (early translational projects with multiple PIs), CellMedica (novel T Cell receptor technology with Hans Stauss and Emma Morris), Grail Therapeutics (early detection of lung cancer with Sam Janes) and Astra Zeneca (access to their compound library three times/year through Richard Angel, TRO Drug Discovery Group).

Our commitment to partnership is exemplified by analysis performed over a 6 year period (2010-2016) which demonstrated that on average 30% of PIs across SLMS were working in partnership with industry.

Innovative treatments and technologies

We have recently established six Therapeutic Innovation Networks (TINs) to accelerate the development of novel therapeutics. The scheme was piloted in 2015, with the establishment of the Cell, Gene and Regenerative Therapies TIN.

UCL, working with UCLB to create spinouts and partnerships, is a world leader in the clinical translation of cell, gene and regenerative therapies. The strength and depth of activity has resulted in a number of high-profile Pharma collaborations and spin-out companies including: Orchard £392M, Autolus £251M, Freeline £123M, Miera £77M, and Achilies £13m.

B cell leukaemia Wikimedia Commons

UCL has a growing CAR T-cell programme based at the UCL Cancer Institute and Great Ormond Street Hospital. There are currently ten phase I/IIa clinical studies of experimental CAR T-cell approaches open at UCL affiliated hospitals which stem directly from this programme (the largest CAR T program in the UK). As an example of pull through from discovery science to clinical application for patient benefit, NHS England announced last year that children and young people in England with B cell leukaemia would be able to benefit from Europe’s first full access deal on CAR-T therapy.

A growing area of partnership with our hospitals, BRCs and industry spanning the whole of the academic base across UCL is in the area of “big data”. UCLH’s partnership with the Alan Turing Institute aims to use the power of data science and artificial intelligence (AI) to support clinical decision making and make services safer, quicker and more efficient. The DRIVE – Digital Research, Informatics and Virtual Environments unit being opened at Great Ormond Street Hospital will create a unique informatics hub to harness the power of the latest technologies to revolutionise clinical practice and improve patient outcomes. Meanwhile, pioneering research from Moorfields and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology working with DeepMind Health has given a demonstration of the potential impact AI could have for patients; an AI system that recommended the correct referral decision for over 50 eye diseases with 94% accuracy, matching world-leading eye experts.

Through this commitment to interdisciplinary research, NHS and industry collaboration, and the adoption of innovative treatments and technologies, UCL is well positioned to develop further novel approaches to all types of disease and to genuinely and fundamentally improve people’s everyday life.

A pan-UCL view of Health and Life Sciences

rmhzdal18 October 2018

The School of Life and Medical Sciences (SLMS) seeks to tackle the greatest health challenges that face society, including dementia, mental health, genetic disease, obesity, infectious disease, cancer and ageing. This is a prodigious ambition and we don’t do it alone.

Our ambition is to bring together UCL researchers, across all UCL disciplines and Schools, who work on health – and our definition of health is all encompassing! As well as human physical and mental health, this could include animal health and planetary health (‘One Health’).

In order to facilitate these important pan-UCL initiatives on health, in early 2016 we established the UCL Health Strategy Forum to address the need for a pan-UCL perspective across the breadth of our health priorities. Vice Deans (Health or Interdisciplinarity) or Health Champions have been appointed in all UCL Faculties and are members of the Forum. This pan-UCL engagement has highlighted the range of UCL Faculties involved in multi-disciplinary, health-related research and the extent of the levels at which it takes place: through institutes, centres or hubs, consortia, and projects of varying scale and scope.

The Forum plays a key role in supporting the significant advances made by the UCL Domains and UCL Grand Challenges in extending and developing interactions between SLMS and the rest of UCL. Pan-UCL health research is facilitated via the UCL Research Domains of: Personalised Medicine, Populations & Lifelong Health, Neuroscience, Cancer and more recently established Domains on Food Metabolism and Society, and Microbiology. A very successful launch event for the Microbiology research Domain was held in April 2018. Domain activities are co-ordinated via the Office of the Vice Provost (Health) Research Coordination Office, and the Office of the UCL Vice-Provost (Research).

  • The Cancer Domain aims to ensure that the breadth and depth of cancer research is visible to external audiences, and brings together investigators around four themes: Understanding Cancer; Treating Cancer; Technology; and Cancer in Society. It links UCL computer scientists, ethicists, statisticians, clinicians, engineers, physicists, and life scientists as well as NHS Trusts, funders, and industry partners. Their recent ‘Artificial Intelligence in Cancer’ event brought together over 120 researchers.
  • The UCL Personalised Medicine Domain aims to harness the personalised medicine research activity across the university and its partner hospitals, to deliver innovative patient-targeted medicines and therapies. The Domain has established a Precision Medicine accelerator focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Healthcare. The SLMS Translational Research Office (TRO) worked together with venture capitalists, companies and the UCL community notably, BEAMS investigators to develop the AI in Health accelerator.
  • The Populations & Lifelong Health domain co-ordinated UCL’s successful £7m application for membership of Health Data Research UK, as a pan-London collaboration with Imperial, Kings, QMUL, and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The focus is on health informatics and actionable analytics, precision medicine, public health, and clinical trials.
  • The Neuroscience Domain has supported the UCL Mental Health strategy working group which consulted widely across UCL to develop recommendations for our future mental health research direction. It has also helped to facilitate productive connections between the Institute of Education and the Divisions of Psychology and Language Sciences and Psychiatry.

Education also benefits from a pan-UCL approach and UCL offers 28 health-related Masters’ programmes external to SLMS, including a new Master’s degree in Bio-social Anthropology. In addition to the 15 MSc, 7 MA and 5 MRes programmes across BEAMS, SLASH and the IoE, Engineering hosts an EPSRC Doctoral Training Programme in Medical Imaging, MAPS offers a health-related post-graduate certificate, and Laws offer two health-related modules.

We aim to extend our impact by close working with UCL’s NHS partners and other Academic Health Science Centres within London and the Southeast cluster. We are involved in a range of exciting major projects with our national and international partners. These are some of our research initiatives:

  • The Wellcome/EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences (WEISS) accommodates researchers from the Faculty of Engineering, the Division of Surgery & Interventional Science, the Centre for Medical Imaging and the Institute for Healthcare Engineering in state-of-the-art interdisciplinary facilities at Charles Bell House, enabling research at the intersection of engineering and health.
  • Led by UCL Biochemical Engineering, the EPSRC Future Vaccine Manufacturing Research Hub (Vax-Hub) will drive vaccine discovery, development and manufacturing, bringing together 25 partners with industry and policy makers to address key challenges in vaccine manufacturing.
  • The EPSRC IRC in Early-Warning Sensing Systems for Infectious Diseases (i-sense) is a multidisciplinary research consortium which aims to engineer a new generation of disruptive sensing systems to diagnose, monitor and prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as major flu epidemics, MRSA and HIV.
  • The contribution of health economics to decisions concerning the production, distribution and evaluation of health and healthcare is recognised by health services worldwide. The Faculty of Population Health Sciences has brought together and strengthened the health economics community across UCL, including Economics, Statistical Science, IoE Social Science and Engineering.
  • The Complex Urban Systems for Sustainability and Health (CUSSH), a four-year Wellcome Trust funded collaboration between Bartlett School of Architecture and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, will deliver key global research on the systems that connect urban development and health.

UCL has one of the largest and most prestigious groupings of academics in biomedical, life and population health sciences in the world. While we are all familiar with the need to interpret league tables with care, they nonetheless provide a helpful indication that our performance over the last academic year supports this claim. In the QS World University Rankings, UCL ‘Life Sciences and Medicine’ ranked 8th in the world (up from 11th in 2017), moving ahead of Yale, UCSF and UCLA, and 3rd in the UK, sustaining our position ahead of our London peers, Imperial and King’s.

I am convinced that this success is due to our pursuit of UCL 2034’s third principal theme: to address global challenges using our ‘distinctive cross-disciplinary approach’. We have made cross-disciplinarity a priority and we can only get better by working more closely with one another. I am keen that we continue to extend and grow the interactions in health and life sciences across UCL.

Professor David Lomas

Vice Provost (Health)

For further information on how to get involved, please contact the Domain leads, or:

Dr Sinéad Kennedy (Director of Research Co-ordination & Planning, OVPH) for research opportunities in health: sinead.kennedy@ucl.ac.uk;

Dr Jane Kinghorn (Director of the Translational Research Office, OVPH) for translational research: j.kinghorn@ucl.ac.uk;

Dr Nandi Simpson (Acting Head of Partnerships and Projects, OVPH) for the Health Strategy Forum: i.simpson@ucl.ac.uk.

Meeting the challenge of dementia

rmhzdal10 November 2017

Professor David Lomas | Vice-Provost (Health)

The UCL Institute of Neurology held its Annual Address lecture earlier this month. It was given by Professor Bart De Strooper, the Director of the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI), who outlined his vision of taking a multi-disciplinary approach to tackle this terrible disease.

The UK DRI that will house the work is a multi-million joint investment into dementia research from the MRC, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. UCL was selected as the hub of the research activities and operational headquarters of the UK DRI’s activity in December 2016.

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